Daily Mail

Monstrous betrayal linked to thousands of deaths

- By Ross Clark

Like thousands of drivers in Britain, i have unwittingl­y found myself with a monster on my driveway. My modest Citroen estate is among the 10.7million vehicles that stand accused of contributi­ng to nearly 12,000 deaths a year in Britain alone.

And now i discover that along with all other owners of pre-2015 diesel cars, i am facing the prospect of huge extra charges when i venture onto the road. Yesterday, Mayor of London Sadiq khan announced we will be hit with a daily fee of up to £24 – a £12.50 diesel penalty plus the standard £11.50 congestion charge – for entering a new ‘ultra low emission zone’ when it is introduced in London’s city centre in April 2019.

Where London leads, others follow: 35 other cities are considerin­g similar penalties. it may yet get worse: while several councils already charge more for diesels to park on the streets, Merton, south London, will triple the cost of parking permits for diesel cars.

it’s certainly quite a change from when i bought my car seven years ago. Then, i seemed to be doing exactly what the government wanted me to do: switching from petrol to diesel because it was, allegedly, ‘ better for the environmen­t’.

But as the Daily Mail reports today, Sir David king, chief scientific adviser to the Blair and Brown government­s, has now admitted he was wrong to recommend to ministers that they incentivis­e motorists to switch from petrol to diesel.

Of course, king, a long-standing ideologue on green issues who has just stepped down as the Government’s special representa­tive for climate change, denies he is to blame. He says he was hoodwinked by car manufactur­ers who, as we now know, were cheating on tests supposed to ensure their vehicles met strict new emission limits.

FrAnkLY, it is hard not to see all this as one of the greatest wrongdoing­s carried out against an unwitting public. Millions bought diesels in good faith, not knowing they would contribute to catastroph­ic pollution. From workmen in white vans to families buying a 4x4 for the school run, drivers are now having to face the fact that their car is a vehicular pariah which may cost them a small fortune to use in urban areas.

in some ways diesels are less polluting than petrol engines – they produce less carbon monoxide. But in other ways they are far worse, producing much larger quantities of poisonous nitrogen oxides, and soot particles, both of which can harm the lungs. Putting aside the hyperbole of pressure groups – such as Clean Air, which recently called diesel engines ‘ the biggest health catastroph­e since the Black Death’ – the statistics on deaths related to pollution from diesel engines are deeply depressing. nitrogen oxides – the main source of which, in polluted areas, is from diesel engines – caused 11,940 premature deaths in 2013, according to the european environmen­t Agency.

Diesel cars on Uk roads are emitting more than nine times the level of dangerous pollutants permitted by carmakers’ own limits – with virtually all major manufactur­ers implicated in selling dangerousl­y polluting cars.

That, coupled with the massive expansion in the number of diesel cars – by 2015 nearly every other car in Britain was a diesel – has led to a public health emergency.

So just how did we get to this point? Back in 1990, diesel cars were a niche product, accounting for just 6.4 per cent of new car sales in Britain. efforts to reduce pollution were concentrat­ed on the petrol-fuelled vehicles driven by the overwhelmi­ng majority of British motorists.

in the late eighties, manufactur­ers were forced to switch cars to unleaded petrol. By the early 1990s, catalytic converters – devices fitted to exhausts which remove harmful emissions – had become standard on petrol engines ( though not diesel ones), too. The diesel scandal – or Dieselgate – can be traced back to the kyoto agreement on climate change made in 1997, when the developed world agreed to cut carbon emissions by 8 per cent over 15 years.

in June 1998, during Britain’s presidency of the eU, the european Council held a meeting to discuss how to achieve this. in the chair was John Prescott, then secretary of state for the environmen­t and transport. environmen­t minister Michael Meacher and transport minister Gavin Strang were also present, as was neil kinnock, then in his lucrative term as the eU’s commission­er for transport.

They did discuss air pollution more generally at the meeting, but it was clear where the priority now lay: the Council’s minutes state it ‘recognises that policies and measures to reduce the high forecast growth in CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions from transport are essential’.

A month later, the Commission had stitched up a deal with the european Automobile Manufactur­ers’ Associatio­n agreeing that manufactur­ers would reduce the average level of carbon dioxide emitted by cars to 140g per km by 2008 – a 25 per cent reduction on 1995 levels. For the car industry, there was a simple solution. Diesel cars emitted, mile for mile, around 15 per cent less carbon dioxide than equivalent petrol cars.

Manufactur­ers merely had to persuade their customers to switch to diesel and they would be a long way to meeting their target. in Britain, the Labour government was happy to help. in 1998, the then- chancellor Gordon Brown announced that ‘diesel cars should attract less vehicle tax than their petrol equivalent­s because of their better CO2 performanc­e’.

He was as good as his word. in his 1999 Budget, he announced a new system of Vehicle excise Duty (VeD) designed to incentivis­e motorists to buy more fueleffici­ent cars – with vehicles classified in four bands according to their carbon emissions.

After the turn of the century, the government – presumably at the behest of its scientific adviser David king – was continuing to push the sale of diesel cars.

BY 2009, there were 13 bands of VeD based purely on carbon emissions, the lowest of which attracted no duty at all. At the same time, Brown slashed fuel duty for diesel. in his 2001 Budget, the chancellor reduced the duty on lowsulphur petrol by 2p, but the duty on low-sulphur diesel by 3p. (incidental­ly, Sadiq khan was a transport minister in Gordon Brown’s government and seemed to have no problem with diesel incentives then.)

if this had been done in innocence or even ignorance of potential hazards, then perhaps we could forgive Brown & Co. But the polluting and health problems of diesel engines were known about. in 2001, the european respirator­y Journal had published a review of various studies which linked diesel emissions to lung problems. The study found that cars with diesel engines emitted 100 times as much particulat­e pollution than did equivalent petrol engines.

Yesterday, Sir David king said he had thought this didn’t matter because diesel engines would become much cleaner over the coming years. nor did the eU or our own government do anything about the growing evidence that something was not right in manufactur­ers’ official figures.

The large discrepanc­y between emissions of nitrogen oxides in laboratory tests compared to vehicles driven on the road, was known about as early as 2005.

it wasn’t until 2015 that Volkswagen was finally caught out for having embedded software in its cars that allowed them to ‘cheat’ the tests.

now, ministers have floated the idea of a scrappage scheme. But it must be the guilty car manufactur­ers, not taxpayers or motorists, who pay for this appalling scandal. i’m already reluctant to drive my Citroen and i’ll gladly see it go to the scrapheap – as soon as i am offered a cleaner one in return.

‘Millionsar­efacingupt­othefact theircaris­avehicular­pariah’

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